Turkey’s threat of a refugee exodus

Stuck in a standoff with Russia, Turkey tried to manipulate help from Europe with a flow of migrants. This exploitation of innocent people ran into a global norm.

Migrants wait in line for food and water on the Greek island of Lesbos March 3.

Since last Friday, journalists have camped out on the border between Turkey and Greece watching for fresh flows of migrants. They anticipated something rarely seen in history: one nation exploiting refugees as pawns in a geopolitical struggle.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to allow up to 1 million refugees now in his country to cross into Europe. To the credit of global norms against the use of innocent migrants as weapons, the flow has been much slower than expected.

Instead of a million Syrians and others crossing into Greece, only about 24,000 made the attempt by Monday, according to Greek officials. Mr. Erdoğan may have decided that generating a migration crisis in Europe was not worth the reputational cost. The world’s moral standards against exploiting vulnerable refugees appear to be holding.

Mr. Erdoğan’s motives for the threat were not entirely clear, but his current circumstances are. He is in a dangerous standoff with Russia over military influence in Syria and wants Western powers to back him up. To get that help, he may have decided to use what is known as “coercive engineered migration,” or driving people toward countries that want regulated flows of migration. This nonmilitary tool is sometimes used by weak countries against stronger ones. Libya under Muammar Qaddafi tried it with Europe while Cuba under Fidel Castro employed it several times against the United States. Recall the Mariel boatlift of 1980 off Florida.

Mr. Erdoğan’s threat was short-lived in part because of a tongue-lashing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who often acts as the world’s conscience. She said Turkey was putting the lives of civilians at risk. In his policy dispute with the European Union, Mr. Erdoğan was “taking it out on the backs of refugees,” she said. “That’s the wrong way.”

To its credit, Turkey has hosted 3.7 million refugees from Syria’s civil war since 2011. It deserves Western aid for this generous hospitality. And the EU as well as the U.S. needs to absorb more of the refugees. But Mr. Erdoğan cannot expect the West to let him exploit refugees for his national goals in Syria. Even in war, the combatants must make peace with the norms of protecting innocent people.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Turkey’s threat of a refugee exodus
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today